Willie Williams Rerun?

It is hard to remember a local reputation fading as rapidly as LAPD Chief Bernard Parks’.

For more than a year, Parks‘ aloof pride -- or was it hubris? -- insulated him from the Rampart scandal and the ensuing municipal crisis. Parks stood apart from the apparent double failure of the LAPD: first, to reform itself, and secondly, to stem a surge in street crime. And he could seemingly say anything in his defense without adverse reaction. As when he told the City Council last year that there was no such thing as a culture of silence in the LAPD.

Even Bill Clinton rarely reached that level of public effrontery. But this whopper elicited nary a shaken councilpersonic head. I don’t even recall the remark being reported in our Newspaper of Record. And early this year, most of the major mayoral candidates still said that, if elected, they were reasonably certain to renew Bernie Parks‘ franchise when his reappointment comes up next year. For Chief Parks, it wasn’t so much a Teflon coating. It seemed he wore armor of depleted uranium.

And now it has all slipped away. At last, there seems a consensus, not just among the mayoral but among the council candidates in this year‘s election, that in the city administration to come, Bernard Parks could be more of a liability than an asset. Joel Wachs categorically stated he would not rehire Parks. But actually, only front-runner mayoral candidate James Hahn and would-be Dick Riordan clone Steve Soboroff still linger in Parks’ corner. And I heard Hahn tell a candidates‘ forum last month that he’d decide Parks‘ future on the basis of the chief’s ability to straighten out the LAPD over the next year. A significant new note, which we can expect to hear again if Hahn‘s support of Parks turns into a campaign debit.

But the real sign that Parks wasn’t just vulnerable, but wounded, was what you might call the Eglash Rebellion. In which, as was disclosed last week, LAPD Inspector General Jeffrey Eglash accused Parks of lying in a more public context than the City Council.

In his 17-page December report, leaked to the Times and no one else, Eglash finally turned the tables on a chief who has long sought to make the I.G. a personal subordinate. The report‘s contention is that Parks withheld Rampart information from then--District Attorney Gil Garcetti, and then falsely claimed in a news conference that he had not done so. The Eglash report adds little to what we knew about Parks’ stonewalling by this time last year. It was clear then from what others -- including LAPD officers -- said that Parks had withheld information from the county prosecutor, telling Garcetti to go get it from federal investigators. Indeed, City Attorney James Hahn had to strongly -- and very publicly -- admonish Parks to cut this stuff out. (In the process, Garcetti also got admonished: This is school-yard-style authority, whereby the bully and his victim both get disciplined. It‘s less funny to think that Parks’ obstinacy might have helped Garcetti lose at the polls.)

No, what‘s newly interesting about Eglash’s action is, first, that he is unprecedented in holding an LAPD chief accountable for the truthfulness of his public statements. Secondly, Eglash realizes that he can now get away with doing stuff like this -- without risking so much as a nasty note from the Mayor‘s Office.

Now Eglash’s fecklessness does have something to do with the new city charter, which gives the I.G. the power to stand up to the chief. But would Eglash really have gone after Parks if the chief weren‘t sinking? If the chief’s popularity weren‘t falling in the public-opinion polls and if it didn’t look as though almost no one expects to see him in uniform at the end of 2002? If, in fact, the chief weren‘t starting to look as feeble as Willie Williams did in his final months?

Hard to say. But holding police chiefs responsible for the truth of their public statements has a trailblazing charm. Imagine if Parks’ despised predecessor, Williams, had been immediately slapped for his lies about who was paying for his Vegas holidays. Or if Williams‘ predecessor, Daryl Gates, had been held accountable for his late-career claims to be advancing the cause of police reform. It also makes you wish there were a councilmayoral I.G. similarly to scrutinize the public statements of elected officials and discipline them. As when, for instance, the mayor last year called Bernie Parks’ Rampart-investigation report the greatest document ever written -- before he‘d actually read it.

Gas Attack

”Ad hominem, Latin; appealing to a person’s prejudices, emotions or special interests, rather than to his intellect or reason.“ --Random House Dictionary of the English Language

”This is shocking, an outrage and a complete conflict of interest,“ said Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Action Network, one of the leading groups battling the [Playa Vista] development.

Hanscom said the seven consultants listed near the front of the [March 7 Los Angeles city Chief Legislative Analyst‘s] report all had some financial connection to Playa Vista developers.

--Los Angeles Times, March 9

As you may have already guessed, that particular report stated, pending a final approval by both the City Council and its budgetary committee, that it’s safe to go ahead and build housing on a formerly contentious 80 acres of the Playa Vista development site. The actual issue at hand was whether the council would give final approval for the state to issue Mello-Roos bonds to finance services like roads and sewers.

But the standing question was really about site safety: There were lingering suspicions that the soil was laced with methane and other gases, and that the site itself might straddle a quake fault. There was also a concern that venting this gas from the ground would cause dangerous surface subsidence.

Faced with strongly voiced opinions of project opponents last year, as well as some ambiguities in earlier city reports, the council got extra cautious and turned the city bureaucracy loose on the problem. The result is a 50-odd-page text (backed up by huge binders of research documents, available in five Westside public libraries) which suggests that, apart from the methane, the site dangers are entirely mythical. The report is pretty thorough, and represents the work of three city agencies: the Chief Legislative Analyst; the Department of Building and Safety; and the Office of Administrative Research Services. There are also three listed state agencies: the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; the state EPA‘s Department of Toxic Substances Control; and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

So what is the response from the Wetlands Action Network? Seven of the nine contract consultants on the report have some sinister connection with Playa Vista Inc. What an ”outrage.“ Let’s just forget about all the government agencies (actually, six government agencies plus two private contractors equals a majority of eight out of 15 report participants that have no alleged ”conflict“) involved -- until we can come up with an ad hominem that suits them. Maybe those agencies have some fix in with the ”Hollywood“ or ”Wall Street“ capitalists Hanscom has previously excoriated as the forces behind Playa Vista.

The virtue of the ad hominem is that you don‘t need to prove a thing. You just hook-shot some guilt-by-association and leave it be. That’s why ad hominem is the favorite weapon of extremists of every stripe, right and left: of the McCarthy Committee and the Moscow Trials prosecutors. Now, I‘m not saying the report is irrefutable. I’m just saying that if you don‘t like its findings, you ought to make at least a stab at refuting them. And the findings are that gas emission, apart from some local methane, ”[is] an insignificant risk, with no further investigation or remediation warranted.“ There is also, apparently, no such thing as the ”postulated Lincoln Boulevard Fault“ suggested by a report last year.

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